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Amador v. Charter

California Court of Appeals, First District, First Division
Jul 19, 2007
No. A114181 (Cal. Ct. App. Jul. 19, 2007)


TRINIDAD AMADOR et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. JUDITH CHARTER et al., Defendants and Appellants. A114181 California Court of Appeal, First District, First Division July 19, 2007


Sonoma County Super. Ct. No. SCV237926

Margulies, J.

Plaintiffs Trinidad and Lisa Amador petitioned for confirmation of an arbitration award. Defendants Judith Charter and Gregory Shore did not oppose confirmation of the award, but they took issue with the proposed order of confirmation submitted by plaintiffs because it did not reflect the entire written ruling of the arbitrator. The trial court adopted the order proposed by plaintiffs, entered a judgment consistent with that order, and subsequently denied a motion to vacate the judgment filed by defendants. We affirm.


On October 31, 2005, arbitrator Richard W. Abbey rendered a written “Ruling of Arbitrator” (ruling) in connection with a dispute between defendants and plaintiffs. According to the ruling, the dispute concerned two agreements between the parties, an “Easement Modification Agreement” (EMA) and an “Agreement for Establishment of Maintenance of Access Roads and Bridges” (RMA). A paragraph entitled “Purpose of Agreement” in the EMA explains that plaintiffs possessed an easement across the property of defendants on a road that runs near the residences on defendants’ land. The EMA was intended to facilitate the “rehabilitation” of a second, older road across defendants’ property that would allow plaintiffs alternative access to their home without passing as close to the residences, to grant an easement in the rehabilitated road, and to extinguish the easement in the former access road, subject to a retained license. The RMA was entered into at the same time as the EMA to delineate the parties’ respective rights and obligations with respect to the construction and maintenance of the roads.

The ruling lists the issues in dispute submitted by the parties to arbitration as:

“1. Whether [plaintiffs] have an easement to use an ‘alternate access road’ constructed on [defendants’] properties;

The “alternate access road” is the name given by the parties to the road that was to be rehabilitated under the EMA and RMA.

“2. Whether the gates maintained on [defendants’] property constitute an unreasonable interference with [plaintiffs’] existing easement and, if so, whether they should be removed or subject to other constraints or limitations deemed appropriate by the Arbitrator;

“3. Whether [defendants] have been unjustly enriched by reason of [plaintiffs’] agreement to share in the costs of construction and maintenance of the roads and bridges as provided in the RMA;

“4. Whether [defendants] are owed any monies for road construction; and

“5. Whether the percentage of sharing maintenance expenses set forth in the RMA should be changed due to change in circumstances.”

The ruling discusses the background of the dispute, the evidence submitted by the parties, and the contractual provisions bearing on the disputed issues. It reaches a conclusion with respect to each submitted issue and explains the basis for that conclusion. As to the first issue, the arbitrator concluded, “[plaintiffs] have the right to utilize the alternate access road as described in Section 3 of the EMA and the existing road. The existing easement will be extinguished if and when the conditions in Section 4 of the EMA are met.” As to the second issue, the arbitrator concluded, “[T]he burden on [defendants] to remove or leave their gates open far exceeds any burden that [plaintiffs] might bear by having to occasionally open and close those gates during the infrequent use of the existing road. As such, the Arbitrator specifically finds that the existing gates may stay in place and may be closed for legitimate security and farming reasons. [¶] . . . [¶] If [plaintiffs] wish to install alternate gates which have automatic opening capabilities, they may do so at their own expense. The Arbitrator reserves the jurisdiction to determine the adequacy of any such gates.” Similar rulings were made for the remaining three issues.

Because they are not relevant to the issues on appeal, these conditions will not be discussed further.

In addition, in the course of discussing his ruling on the above issue, the arbitrator stated, “Although the Arbitrator does not feel that he has the authority to specifically modify the existing easement, he wishes to make it perfectly clear to the parties that he views the ‘new alternate access’ as the main access for [plaintiffs] to their property. The use of the existing easement is to be only for extraordinary purposes and, most importantly, an emergency vehicle access to comply with County of Sonoma requirements. Given the new access, it is the Arbitrator’s view that use of the old road for other than emergency access or extraordinary purposes would be inappropriate and could constitute an overburdening depending on the circumstances of the use.”

After the arbitrator issued the ruling, each party wrote a letter to the arbitrator that, among other things, sought clarification of the above-quoted language. In response, the arbitrator issued a brief order stating, in relevant part, that the quoted statements “are advisory in nature and do not constitute modifications of the existing easement.” The arbitrator refused to make any further comment on the statements.

Thereafter, plaintiffs filed a petition to confirm the arbitrator’s award. Defendants did not oppose confirmation of the award generally, but they opposed the particular form of order confirming the award proposed by plaintiffs. The trial court granted the petition and entered an order in essentially the form proposed by plaintiffs. The court entered a similar judgment, which consists of statements in summary form of the arbitrator’s rulings with respect to the five issues submitted by the parties for resolution, as well as the arbitrator’s conclusion that no attorney fees were to be awarded. The court implicitly rejected defendants’ request that it issue an order and judgment expressly incorporating the arbitrator’s written ruling.

Defendants filed a motion to set aside this judgment and substitute a judgment that contained the entirety of the arbitrator’s ruling. The trial court denied the motion, stating, “The order and judgment are in conformity with the arbitration award and essentially confirm it as made. They, at most, deviate somewhat from the specific language in the arbitration award, but include only ruling and findings that are in the award, nothing more, and they change nothing. They also include all the actual determinations about the easement, the gate, monetary claims, and attorney’s fees. The order and judgment leave out only the arbitrator’s additional comments beyond the scope of the actual arbitration, such as his opinion about which is the main road to [plaintiffs’] property, etc. They leave out none of the arbitrator’s actual award or ruling.”


Defendants do not contend that the trial court’s judgment misstates the arbitrator’s express rulings on the submitted issues as contained in the written ruling. Rather, they contend that the trial court erred in failing to enter a judgment that contained the entirety of the arbitrator’s ruling, including the advisory comments discussed above. As defendants characterize their argument, the trial court erred because the judgment impermissibly “summarize[d] and paraphrase[d] the Award, deleting those matters [the trial court] deem[ed] extraneous to the Award,” rather than “confirming the Award as made by the Arbitrator.”

The governing law must be stated in general principles, derived largely from Code of Civil Procedure provisions governing arbitration. Any party to an arbitration may petition the court to confirm, correct, or vacate the arbitration award. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1285.) An arbitration award “is the determination of the issue presented for arbitration.” (Bierlein v. Johnson (1946) 73 Cal.App.2d 728, 735.) Every award “shall include a determination of all the questions submitted to the arbitrators the decision of which is necessary in order to determine the controversy.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 1283.4; Hightower v. Superior Court (2001) 86 Cal.App.4th 1415, 1434.) Unless the court corrects or vacates the award, the court must “confirm the award as made.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 1286.)

The purpose of confirmation “is to raise the award to the status of a judgment having the same force as a judgment in a civil action so as to render it enforceable like any other judgment of the court in which it is entered.” (Trollope v. Jeffries (1976) 55 Cal.App.3d 816, 823.) Accordingly, “[i]f an award is confirmed, judgment shall be entered in conformity therewith.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 1287.4.) “A judgment is the final determination of the rights of the parties in an action or proceeding.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 577.) “The obvious purpose of a judgment is to definitely determine the claims of the contending parties in conformity with the pleadings filed.” (Jew Fun Him v. Occidental Life Ins. Co. (1948) 88 Cal.App.2d 246, 250.)

In addition to confirming an award, the court may also, when properly petitioned, correct an award if (1) the award contains an “evident miscalculation of figures or an evident mistake in the description of any person, thing or property referred to in the award”; or (2) the arbitrator has exceeded his or her power in rendering the award and the award can be corrected without affecting the merits of the decision “upon the controversy submitted.” (Code Civ. Proc., § 1286.6; Valsan Partners Limited Partnership v. Calcor Space Facility, Inc. (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 809, 818.) The latter phrase is significant, since the most common manner in which an arbitrator can exceed his or her powers is to go beyond the task set out by the parties, rendering an award with respect to matters that they did not actually submit for decision. (Muldrow v. Norris (1859) 12 Cal. 331, 344, disapproved on other grounds in Sapp v. Barenfeld (1949) 34 Cal.2d 515, 522–523; Ajida Technologies, Inc. v. Roos Instruments, Inc. (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 534, 543, 547.)

Neither party has addressed the scope of our review. We assume that we apply de novo review to the legal issue of whether the judgment entered by the trial court complies with the statutory requirement that a judgment confirming an arbitration award must be entered “in conformity [ ]with” the award. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1287.4; see Kavanaugh v. West Sonoma County Union High School Dist. (2003) 29 Cal.4th 911, 916 [appellate review of statutory interpretation is de novo when facts are not disputed]; Jones v. Humanscale Corp. (2005) 130 Cal.App.4th 401, 408 [applying de novo review to issue of whether arbitrator exceeded powers].)

Defendants argue that the trial court erred in excluding the arbitrator’s comments about the scope of the easement on the new road, contending that the arbitrator “needed to decide” not only “whether . . . [plaintiffs] were entitled to two concurrent easements over [defendants’] property,” but also, if so, “the nature and extent of those easements.” On its face, this argument appears to be incorrect, since the relevant question submitted to the arbitrator was “[w]hether [plaintiffs] have an easement to use an ‘alternate access road’ constructed on [defendants’] properties.” As so stated, the issue does not call upon the arbitrator to rule on the scope of either easement, but merely on the existence of an easement on the rehabilitated road.

We need not resolve this issue, however, because the arbitrator himself labeled as “advisory” his comments about the proper scope of the existing easement, thus indicating his view that his comments ranged beyond the issues actually presented to him. Courts are required to defer to the arbitrator’s determination of the scope of his or her authority (Hightower v. Superior Court, supra, 86 Cal.App.4th at p. 1434), and we find no abuse of discretion in the arbitrator’s conclusion that he was not asked to resolve the scope, as opposed to the existence, of the easements. There is no evidence that defendants had made any complaint that plaintiffs’ use of the existing easement road exceeded the scope of the easement in light of the alternative access road or had tendered such a complaint for resolution. Rather, in making these comments the arbitrator appears to have been attempting to head off a future dispute by cautioning plaintiffs about their likely legal rights in using the existing easement road. The trial court was correct in concluding that these comments were not part of the arbitrator’s resolution of the issues submitted to him and therefore were not appropriate for inclusion in the judgment.

Defendants argue more generally that the trial court, by failing to include the full text of the written ruling, modified the arbitrator’s award rather than entering judgment “in conformity” with it, as required by Code of Civil Procedure section 1287.4. The argument presumes that the arbitrator’s written ruling constitutes, and is synonymous with, his award, but there is no authority for such a presumption. As noted, an arbitrator’s award, for purposes of the Code of Civil Procedure, is “the determination of the issue presented for arbitration.” (Bierlein v. Johnson, supra, 73 Cal.App.2d at p. 735.) An arbitration award is therefore comparable to a judgment entered by a civil court. It is a summary statement of the rights of the parties, often merely a monetary award or the denial of such an award, as settled by the arbitrator.

The arbitrator’s written decision, if he or she issues one, bears the same relationship to the award that a trial court’s statement of decision bears to its judgment. The statement of decision contains the rulings from which the judgment can be derived, but it is not itself the judgment. In the same way, an arbitrator’s written decision may—and must, if no separate award is issued (Code Civ. Proc., § 1283.4)—contain the elements of the award, but it is not itself the award. A recognition of this distinction is found in Code of Civil Procedure section 1285.4, which specifies the contents of a petition to confirm, vacate, or correct an arbitration award. Section 1285.4 requires the petition to “[s]et forth or have attached a copy of the award and the written opinion of the arbitrators, if any.” (Italics added.) If the decision were the award, there would be no reason for the statue to distinguish between the two.

There is a second reason for distinguishing between the award and the written ruling in this case. It is clear that an arbitrator’s award constitutes his or her rulings on the issues submitted for decision by the parties. The scope of an arbitration is a matter of agreement between the parties, and the powers of the arbitrator are circumscribed and limited by that agreement. (Moncharsh v. Heily & Blase (1992) 3 Cal.4th 1, 8 (Moncharsh).) “The extent of an arbitrator’s authority is governed by the underlying agreement and by the dispute submitted by the parties.” (San Jose Federation etc. Teachers v. Superior Court (1982) 132 Cal.App.3d 861, 864.) Any pronouncements on issues other than those actually submitted by the parties are, in effect, voidable as beyond the powers of the arbitrator and constitute grounds for correction of the award through deletion of the extraneous rulings. (Muldrow v. Norris, supra, 12 Cal. at p. 344; Ajida Technologies, Inc. v. Roos Instruments, Inc., supra, 87 Cal.App.4th at pp. 542–543.)

It appears, and the arbitrator so concluded, that his comments on the scope of the permissible burden on the existing easement were beyond the issues submitted to him by the parties. To equate the written ruling and the award would elevate those well-intentioned, but admittedly advisory, comments into a binding award merely because the arbitrator included them in his ruling, without regard to whether the issue was submitted to him by the parties.

We reject defendants’ contention that plaintiffs were required to make a motion to correct the award if they did not want to include these and other portions of the written ruling in the judgment. As to the advisory comments, had the arbitrator rendered these comments as a binding award, we agree with defendants that plaintiffs would have been required to file a motion to correct if they sought to exclude them from the judgment. Because the arbitrator did not purport to have rendered a binding ruling with respect to these comments, but acknowledged them to be merely advisory, there was no need for a motion to correct. The arbitrator’s concession constituted an acknowledgment that these comments, while included in his ruling, did not constitute a part of his award. Other portions of the written ruling, such as the arbitrator’s recitation of plaintiffs’ representations of their intentions during the hearing, were also inappropriate for inclusion in the order or judgment confirming the award because they were not a part of the award. Like the arbitrator’s description of his reasoning process, his account of the factual background, and his advisory commentary, the description of testimony does not constitute a part of the arbitrator’s resolution of the issues presented to him. (See Bierlein v. Johnson, supra, 73 Cal.App.2d at p. 735.)

A closer question is defendants’ contention that the arbitrator’s retention of jurisdiction should have been included in the judgment. Where the elements of an arbitrator’s award necessarily require further action or supervision by the arbitrator, the retention of jurisdiction may be appropriate for inclusion in a judgment because it arises directly from, and is an essential part of, the arbitrator’s resolution of the submitted issues. However, when an arbitrator’s award is essentially “self-executing,” it is improper for an arbitrator to retain jurisdiction sua sponte, without the permission of the parties. (San Jose Federation etc. Teachers v. Superior Court, supra, 132 Cal.App.3d at p. 868.) In this case, each of the rulings in the arbitrator’s award was self-executing. The arbitrator’s continuing jurisdiction did not arise of necessity from the current award, and therefore derive its justification from the issues submitted by the parties, but was dependent upon a stipulation of the parties. For that reason, the retention of jurisdiction was not a part of the award and was properly excluded from the judgment.

This is not to say that the stipulation of the parties on the arbitrator’s continuing jurisdiction is of no force and effect. The stipulation is presumably a contract and can be enforced in the manner of a contract. It is simply not a part of the judgment and is not subject to the special mechanisms that may be used to enforce a judgment.

Citing Moncharsh, defendants argue that in entering the judgment the trial court was engaging in judicial review of the arbitrator’s decision and “declining to confirm [all aspects of the award] because it disagrees with the merits of the decision.” (Jones v. Humanscale Corp., supra, 130 Cal.App.4th at p. 409.) The claim is entirely unsupported. There is no indication that the trial court engaged in any substantive review of the award. The court simply attempted to separate the elements of the award—that is, the arbitrator’s rulings on the issues submitted by the parties—from the remainder of the written ruling and embody those elements in a judgment. Significantly, defendants make no attempt to demonstrate that the arbitrator’s rulings on the issues actually submitted for decision differed from the rulings embodied in the judgment.

Defendants do argue that “Paragraph 1 of the Judgment simply states that [plaintiffs] have an easement to use the alternate access road, and are entitled to use it as well as the road on the easement which existed prior to the EMA. . . . This is not what the arbitrator awarded.” Defendants’ contention, however, is not that the statement in the judgment is a misstatement of the resolution of this issue in the arbitrator’s award, but that the written ruling also included the advisory commentary that is not found in the judgment. As noted above, on the issue actually submitted for decision, whether plaintiffs had an easement in the rehabilitated road, the arbitrator ruled that “[plaintiffs] have the right to utilize the alternate access road as described in Section 3 of the EMA and the existing road,” just as found in the judgment.

In summary, we find no error in the trial court’s judgment. As noted, an arbitration award consists of the arbitrator’s resolution of the questions submitted for decision by the parties. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1283.4; Bierlein v. Johnson, supra, 73 Cal.App.2d at p. 735.) It is these questions, determined as a matter of contract between the parties, that define the scope of the arbitration and the powers of the arbitrator. (Moncharsh, supra, 3 Cal.4th at p. 8.) The judgment entered by the trial court contains paragraphs that address accurately the rights and obligations of the parties with respect to each of the questions the parties submitted, as determined by the arbitrator in his written ruling. Defendants do not contend that any of the provisions of the judgment misstate or in any other way inaccurately reflect the specific rulings of the arbitrator on the issues actually submitted for decision. Accordingly, the judgment is “in conformity” with the award, as required by Code of Civil Procedure section 1287.4.

Because we find no error in the judgment itself, the trial court did not err in denying defendants’ motion to vacate the judgment under Code of Civil Procedure section 663.


The judgment entered by the trial court is affirmed.

We concur: Stein, Acting P.J., Swager, J.

Summaries of

Amador v. Charter

California Court of Appeals, First District, First Division
Jul 19, 2007
No. A114181 (Cal. Ct. App. Jul. 19, 2007)
Case details for

Amador v. Charter

Case Details

Full title:TRINIDAD AMADOR et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. JUDITH CHARTER et…

Court:California Court of Appeals, First District, First Division

Date published: Jul 19, 2007


No. A114181 (Cal. Ct. App. Jul. 19, 2007)